Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP - The Inside View

Prepare to navigate a free market system at this prestigious international firm, which originated in LA 126 years ago.

RED-bearded men have played some significant roles over the course of history: King Henry VIII (played by Damian Lewis in the TV adaptation of Wolf Hall), Vincent Van Gogh, Ulysses S. Grant, Brody from Homeland (also played by Damian Lewis...) and – though not quite so well known, we admit – corporate attorney John Dustin Bicknell. By 1890, Bicknell had created the legal outfit that was to become Gibson Dunn. Today the megafirm has over 1,200 lawyers across a network of 18 offices (half of which are in the USA) and a stockpile of nationwide rankings from Chambers USA, including top spots for antitrust, appellate law, securities litigation, corporate crime and FCPA [Foreign Corrupt Practices Act] work. On the transactional side, it's lauded for capital markets, M&A, and banking & finance brilliance, among others.

All the juniors we spoke to were adamant about why they'd joined Gibson: “The firm's national spread and reputation stood out to me – the name is recognized from LA to New York.” Another reported: “When I was looking at firms, I liked Gibson best because it had a sort of swagger to it. Other places try and convince you about how good they are, but Gibson is confident about the fact that it offers great work and is full of great people to work with.” Others concurred, noting that it's “a serious but social place. Obviously it's a prestigious, high-level practice but people are fairly relaxed and allow you to have a life.”  

The Work

First-year associates join Gibson's offices across the country, but the largest cohorts are based in New York, LA and DC. During their first two years, juniors have the opportunity to formally rotate between practice areas at six-month intervals. However, “most people usually come in knowing that they want to be litigators, for example, and stick with that.”

"You need to take charge of your own destiny." 

Thanks to the firm's free market system, “you have the freedom to develop your own practice and build relationships with the people you want to build relationships with. You're not forced onto projects or at the mercy of an assigning partner.” As such, “you need to take charge of your own destiny, figure out what you wanna do and go get it!” Fortunately, newcomers aren't left to roam the halls in search of work on their first day: “You're staffed on a matter to get you acclimated.” A rookie revealed: “Coming in, I was worried that I might end up sitting around with nothing to do, but that hasn't been my experience at all. I reached out to people I'd worked with from the summer, but I also found that people I hadn't worked with before were waiting to ask if I wanted to jump on board projects.”

Although sources appreciated the flexibility and responsibility afforded by the free market system, they did emphasize that “it's a big learning curve” in terms of balancing workload. “The only way to learn is trial and error!” One warned that “it demands an assertive personality type – you can't be afraid to say no to things.”

While some litigators told us that they do “mostly appellate work” or “primarily white-collar investigations,” others had sampled a whole host of subjects. “My goal was to get a wide range of experience, because I didn't know what type of litigation I wanted to do ultimately.” We heard from juniors who'd tried their hand at employment cases, patent, fraud, oil & gas litigation, government investigations, antitrust work, entertainment, healthcare, and securities cases. Inevitably there's doc review to be done, but associates also get to grips with “research, preparing for depositions, drafting briefs, dispositive motions and discovery motions.” Attending client meetings is also common. “We work on matters of incredible substance, and even people at the very bottom take on real responsibilities."

“Within a month of starting I was talking to clients."

Over in the corporate department, associates are able to try out a range of areas, including capital markets, M&A, finance, private equity and funds. An insider who'd got stuck into fund formation work explained that “matters are staffed leanly, so a lot of the time I just work with a partner. I draft documents like limited partnership agreements and private placement memos, and then receive comments from the partner.” On M&A deals, rookies should brace themselves for due diligence and doc review but there's also scope for regular client contact: “Within a month of starting I was talking to clients at least once a day.”

Training & Development

The firm offers weekly practice-specific training sessions for new associates that are beamed out via videolink across the offices. “Each one covers a different topic like filing a complaint, or filing a motion to dismiss,” explained a source. "They're pretty helpful – it's good to cover the basics.” Of course, “you learn the most from actually trying to do the job!”

"It's a blast!”

There's also the annual New Lawyer Academy – a retreat in Tucson, Arizona, attended by all new starters, including laterals, from offices across the world. Although there are some panel events, “it's weighted toward socializing and networking rather than training – it's a blast!”

Interviewees tended to be pleased with the level of feedback received from seniors during the daily grind. “I've been impressed with the partners here; they're concerned with how I'm developing and are good about taking the time to walk me through things.” Naturally, it's all “personality-dependent.” While some folk have “strong mentoring skills” and readily offer advice, others are “less proactive, but will give you red lines on your draft.”


"A high level of coffee consumption."

“We're a West Coast firm at heart,” reckoned an associate in Dallas. “It's surprisingly laid back for BigLaw, but that shouldn't be misinterpreted – everyone here is ambitious and works very hard.” A Denverite agreed: “We're not that intense here, although our work is as good as anybody else's in the firm.” Some lawyers perceived that “the New York office has a more traditional vibe.” An insider described the Big Apple base as “very social – I get drinks and go to Mets games with my office mate – but also it's a 'work hard, play hard' culture with a high level of coffee consumption.”

The DC base “has a reputation for being a little more buttoned up,” specifically when it comes to dress code. “I'm eternally jealous of the Orange County office's Hawaiian shirt Fridays,” noted a lawyer in the capital forlornly. Despite this “superficial formality,” DC juniors characterized the office as an “excellent place to work, full of humble, hilarious and kind people. There's not a lot of ego here, despite the fact that there's probably justification for it. It's easy to work with people, and that's true for associates and partners. What with the free market system, work for jerks would dry up very quickly – both ways!” An insider in LA concurred: “Everyone is very intelligent but they don't act like it by sitting around talking pretentiously. People go hiking together and talk about bad TV and also happen to have excellent credentials!”

When it comes to the social side of things, we heard that “a large number of associates are good friends, so people often go for lunches together informally or see each other outside of work.” The firm also organizes a spread of get-togethers. As well as a big holiday bash, there are regular happy hours, weekly 'deli counter' lunches (“I've found some of my best work just by plopping down next to someone at a table and striking up conversation!”) practice-area-specific retreats and various sports teams, including softball and basketball. “A lot of folk have families they want to get back to at the end of the day,” noted associates. “So while socializing is encouraged, it's not forced!”

Hours & Compensation

The firm has a “soft target” of 1,950 hours for the year. All of our interviewees were relaxed about meeting this. “I've never been concerned about it – there's more than enough work to go around.” Many mentioned that they'd “surpassed the suggested target without any trouble.” However, it's understood that “for first-years the hours might be difficult to meet when you're ramping up at the beginning.” Everyone we spoke to was pleased to confirm that pro bono hours “count one-for-one toward the target, so there are a plenty of ways to make up the 1,950 hours.” Everyone is eligible for a merit-based bonus, even if hours are below 1,950.

"You're treated like an adult." 

Sources also appreciated that “there's no face time requirement. You're treated like an adult, so there's flexibility. People don't really care when you do the work as long as it gets done. I can work whenever I want – it's not a nine-to-five job – but then again, you're technically 'on' 24/7. So if you’ve got a motion due on Monday morning, you'd expect to be working on the weekend. But then you could take off early on Tuesday.” A junior trumpeted: “The lack of face time matches my personality – I don't need someone to be nagging at me!” As usual, attorneys emphasized that “things really ebb and flow – sometimes I can come in at 10am and leave at 5pm with an hour for lunch, but if a case is going crazy then I'll be up late.” Associates also pointed out that “if someone has important plans and informs ahead, that's really respected. My peer associates took a bullet for me when I planned to get engaged on a certain weekend and knew I wouldn't be replying to emails.”

Pro Bono

“We are very much a pro bono firm – we take pride in it and love doing it!” exclaimed an associate happily. As mentioned previously, the firm credits all pro bono hours and there isn't a formal cap. Every insider we talked to had at least one pro bono matter on the go – in fact, “it would probably raise eyebrows if you didn't do any at all. It's the norm, culturally.” (Of course, this being BigLaw, “the priority is still billable work.”)

"It's the norm, culturally."

Associates mentioned working on a wide range of cases – among others, immigration and asylum matters, people trafficking cases, disability benefits cases for veterans, domestic violence restraining orders, custody cases and matters for innocence projects and animal shelters.

Pro bono hours 

  • For all attorneys across all US offices: 130,005 
  • Average per US attorney: 120


"Very attentive."

As with most BigLaw institutions, “diversity isn't where it should be.” However, juniors thought that “the firm is really focused on improving diversity.” Many mentioned that “Gibson is very attentive to women's issues. They have regular lunches and events that encourage women to stay on track for partnership. There aren't as many women in senior leadership roles as men, so everyone agrees that this needs to be addressed.” There's also an all-women retreat “to talk about retention and celebrate female lawyers.” Sources told us that they'd been involved in the LGBT affinity group, hosting events and helping with recruitment. “I feel very strongly about how wonderful the firm has been. The firm recognizes that our world is very diverse, and shouldn't be full of curmudgeonly old white men.”

Get Hired

Insiders who'd been involved in recruiting remarked that “Gibson is looking for students who show initiative, who come prepared with some knowledge of what the firm's known for and are able to ask questions about us.” Various lunches and dinners form part of the selection process (“They put a lot of emphasis on seeing how you perform in a more casual setting”).

"A vibrant personality." 

Associates noted that “in terms of personality they tend to look for people who'll thrive in the free market system. I know some people here who are quiet, but everyone has a vibrant personality.” Academic credentials are obviously important, but “they also want folks who are good at what they do without being that 'type A' aggressive law school type!”

Strategy & Future

Chairman Ken Doran tells us: "For us, growth areas would include white collar, antitrust, private equity and M&A, privacy, patent litigation, real estate, energy and infrastructure, restructuring, healthcare and life sciences. Our practice focus shifts with clients’ needs." Last year we heard that the firm was focused on building up the transactional team in London. Doran confirms that "this remains the case. We're making great progress but we're not finished. Last year, we also brought on additional laterals in private equity and M&A. Similarly, we are continuing to grow in Asia and in the US."

Ken Doran, chairman & managing partner

Chambers Associate: What have been the major highlights for the firm over the past 12 months?

Ken Doran: 2015 marked our 125th anniversary as a firm. We celebrated in grand style with an all-firm retreat in Boca Raton. We shared our history, legends and lore, our cherished culture and our bright future. We had great speakers including a former Secretary of State, a Nobel peace prize winner, Pulitzer prize-winning authors, a former Navy Seal, Harvard professors, diversity consultants and others. We also had great entertainment -- Lenny Kravitz, in particular, proved to be a great cross-generational success. Our 125th anniversary marked an important milestone in our life as a firm -- an occasion to pause and to celebrate.

Just recently, the American Lawyer named Gibson Dunn as the Best Litigation Firm in the world. We have now won in three of the most recent four biennial competitions. We were also honoured for having the best White Collar & Investigations Practice. And finally, we were again named as the Law Firm of the Year by Law360 – which recognized 10 of our practice areas as being the best, which was more than any other firm. 2015 was another great year for Gibson Dunn.

CA: What's the firm's strategy for the future? Are there any new office openings in the pipeline?

KD: We continue to grow in the major financial markets of the world, and seek to help our clients with their most important disputes and transactions. Our practice focus evolves as our clients’ needs evolve. Leading companies hire us for their most complicated problems and when it matters the most, as shown by our work this year for Apple and Uber. A year ago, I reported that we were focused on building our transactional team in London and that remains the case. We're making great progress but we're not finished. As part of that ongoing effort, we have recruited partners in private equity, finance and M&A. Similarly, we are continuing to grow in Asia – where we have added an international arbitration and competition practice in Hong Kong, and a disputes and arbitration practice in Dubai. In the US, we've added a number of new partners to our life sciences, fund formation and tax practices. We do not have any new offices to announce at this time, but we continue to look at markets where we can add value to our clients. I suspect that we may have something to announce in the not too distant future.

CA: What should prospective associates bear in mind about the firm. What is Gibson looking for in future associates?

KD: Our practice is very dynamic, so we're looking for lawyers who appreciate a challenge, relish cutting-edge work and thrive on an ever-changing market. We seek lawyers who are naturally collaborative and collegial, and who enjoy the opportunity of being exposed to novel problems and a dynamic and diverse practice. Unlike some firms which hire new associates directly into narrow practice areas, we do not pigeon-hole our young associates. We encourage them to work across practice areas and geographies, and with many different partners; we believe that breadth of practice will develop strong well-rounded lawyers, who are able to change course seamlessly during their careers as the market and client demands change. We have designed a multi-faceted training and mentoring program to support our junior lawyers’ successful integration into the firm. We continue to support our mid-level and senior associates with programs such as our three-day Mid-Level Academy, advanced level substantive training, and individual career path coaching.

We seek lawyers who take great pride in delivering excellent work product on a consistent basis, who work well as part of a team and who thrive on adding value to our clients. Our associates need to be very smart, creative, dedicated to client service, and willing to invest in themselves. They must be team players who recognize and respect the contributions of their peers.

Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP

333 South Grand Avenue,
Los Angeles,
CA 90071-1512

  • Head Office: Los Angeles, CA 
  • Number of domestic offices: 9
  • Number of international offices: 9
  • Worldwide revenue: $1,535,271,000
  • Partners (US): 314
  • Associates (US): 768
  • 1Ls hired? Yes
  • Split summers offered? Yes
  • Can summers spend time in overseas office? No
  • Summers 2016: 125 (incl.uding 6 1Ls)
  • Offers/acceptances 2015: 115 offers, 94 acceptances as of 1/22/16

Main areas of work
Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is renowned for both its litigation and transactional work. Major practice groups include antitrust, capital markets, class actions, environmental, electronic discovery, information technology, intellectual property, media and entertainment, mergers and acquisitions, securities, transnational litigation and whitecollar defense. The firm is especially known for its appellate work, particularly in the US Supreme Court. Firm profile Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher is a full-service global law firm, with over 1,300 lawyers in 18 offices worldwide, including nine offices in major cities throughout the United States and over 170 lawyers in their London, Paris, Munich, Beijing, Brussels, Dubai, Hong Kong, Singapore and São Paulo offices. The firm is recognized for excellent legal service and its lawyers routinely represent clients in some of the most high-profile litigations and complex transactions in the world.

Recruitment details
• Number of 1st year associates: 87
• Number of 2nd year associates: 121
• Associate salaries: 1st year: $180,000
• 2nd year: $190,000
• Clerking policy: Yes

Law Schools attending for OCIs in 2016:
Berkeley, Chicago, Colorado, Columbia, Cornell, Duke, Fordham, George Washington, Georgetown, Harvard, Irvine, Loyola, Michigan, NYU, Northwestern, Pennsylvania, Pepperdine, San Diego, SMU, Stanford, Texas, UCLA, USC, Virginia, Yale

Summer details 

Summer associate profile:
Gibson Dunn’s summer program is the single largest means through which new lawyers become a part of our firm. Each summer, Gibson Dunn brings together approximately 125 of the most accomplished and ambitious students from the top law schools across the nation, providing them with real involvement in the high quality legal work that our firm does every day. Our summer associates are involved directly in the firm’s representation of its clients, maximizing their exposure to the practical aspects of lawyering. In addition to interesting client work, the summer program includes many great social activities giving summer associates the chance to get to know each other and the lawyers of the firm.

Summer program components:
The firm provides significant and substantive training to our select group of summer associates. Each summer associate receives detailed feedback on the projects that they perform plus numerous formal training programs.